The Story Behind Radiohead, ‘Creep’


Image of alternative rock band Radiohead in black and white.

The tale behind Radiohead, “Creep” – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Tom Sheehan

We delve into the story of Radiohead with “Creep,” which remains one of the band’s biggest hits

Music fans are all too familiar with the story of band members who end up hating or getting sick of their big hit. Sometimes, fans will even flock to a show because of a radio hit and leave disappointed that the band didn’t play that big chart-topper. The story of the Radiohead song “Creep” slightly follows that trajectory. While the song remains to be Radiohead’s most successful single, the band hasn’t always been a big fan of it. Moreover, the song didn’t climb the charts overnight. Read on for the story of Radiohead, “Creep.” The song originally arrived on Sept. 21, 1992, so this week marks its anniversary.

The Unlikely Story of Radiohead, ‘Creep’

Radiohead’s “Creep” wasn’t really meant to be. The song arrived on the band’s 1993 debut album, “Pablo Honey.” During the recording sessions for the album, Radiohead’s producers Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie convinced them to record it. It was a random thing, but the song turned out so appropriate for the grunge-heavy time that the record label made it Radiohead’s first single.

As the story goes, according to an interview in Mojo magazine, during rehearsal, Thom Yorke and company were jamming out to “Creep.” Kolderie thought it was a Scott Walker song, and when he found out it was an original, he insisted they record it. Kolderie told Mojo that after they were finished with it, he knew it was going to be a hit. “At the end, everyone in the place was silent for a moment and then they burst into applause. I’d never had that happen before,” he recalled.

A Long Climb to Success

What’s funny is that “Creep” wasn’t a hit out the gate. It dropped in the U.K. to little fanfare. It only reached No. 78 on the U.K. chart to begin with. But, then, “Creep” started getting played in heavy rotation in Israel, thanks to a DJ called Yoav Kutner. From there, it started getting more international airplay.

Finally, “Creep” made its way to the U.S. on San Francisco’s Live 105. It took off, and other stations jumped on the bandwagon. Eventually, “Creep” went to No. 2 on Billboard’s alternative chart and crossed over to the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 34 on the Hot 100. It also reached No. 7 in the U.K., after that slow start.

So, what is Creep about? Listening to the lyrics and based on things York has said over the years, the song is about the feeling of being in love with someone but not feeling good enough. Who hasn’t felt that feeling? One of the reasons the song took off is likely because it has such a relatable theme. That’s in addition to the track’s alternative rock splendor.

“Creep” was one of the biggest moments for Radiohead off their “Pablo Honey” debut. The band introduced their sound to the world on this release, offering a U2-inspired set of arena rock that was intimate enough to be suited for small clubs and venues. It was a noisy, alternative sound that would appeal to both grunge and indie music fans.

Over the years, Radiohead have had a love-hate relationship with “Creep.” For years, they didn’t play it live. But, in 2017, the guys performed “Creep” during the encore for their performance at the Glastonbury Festival later.

In a post-show interview with Rolling Stone, rhythm guitarist Ed O’Brien said of Creep, “It’s nice to play for the right reasons. People like it and want to hear it. We do err towards not playing it because you don’t want it to feel like show business.” Yorke added, “It can be cool sometimes, but other times I want to stop halfway through and be like, ‘Nah, this isn’t happening.'” Of course, it was happening.

Second Thoughts

“Creep” wouldn’t be the first release about which Radiohead had second thoughts. The band actually has a history of not being at peace with the music they release. Remember the band’s aversion to their “OK Computer?” record? The album, released in 1997, was hugely popular for Radiohead, but the success reportedly made them uncomfortable.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t like the album. The band thought it was special. But, as drummer Philip Selway told Rolling Stone, “There was an element of sitting there with your fingers in your ears, trying to block some of it out. Maybe we were slightly wary of it after the response that ‘Creep’ had. It all comes a bit double-edged, really.”

Today, “Creep” is still a staple on alternative and rock radio. In addition to that theme of love and not being good enough, “Creep” also has that perfect alternative rock vibe, with sparse, lo-fi guitars and Yorke’s unmistakable vocals. Happy anniversary, “Creep,” and many more to come.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Features, Music, Rock

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